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Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Beware door-to-door salesmen in Hong Kong selling dubious water purifiers, watchdog says

Consumer Council believes uptick in complaints linked to growing demand for such devices after city’s tainted water scare of 2015

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2018, 7:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2018, 11:38am

Hongkongers should watch out for shady door-to-door salesmen peddling expensive water purifiers bearing dubious promises such as disease prevention and hair smoothening, the city’s consumer watchdog warned.

The Consumer Council said it had received a string of complaints involving such sales in recent years, with at least one case involving a customer conned into buying a HK$33,000 (US$4,200) “electrolyte water apparatus” capable of ridding vegetables of pesticides.

The watchdog believed the uptick was most probably linked to the growing demand for purification devices in light of the 2015 lead-in-water scare.

“Often, unscrupulous salesmen, on the pretext of undertaking water quality tests for the household, gain entry to the premises,” the council’s Clement Chan Kam-wing said.

Another lead scare in drinking water at Hong Kong housing estate

“Once inside, [they] begin to peddle their wares to these unwary tenants with exaggerated and inaccurate sales persuasion.”

In one case, a complainant received a call from a company offering a free water sample test, mistaking it for a government service. The company’s staffer arrived to do the so-called test and told the complainant her tap water contained chlorine, which was bad for her health in the long run.

The staffer managed to sell her a HK$9,900 “water machine” – paid in instalments over 24 months – that could dispense chlorine-free water that he claimed could make her hair smooth even without the use of a conditioner.

After she had paid, it dawned on her that the machine was only for taking showers and not for drinking, and she protested, but the salesman “ignored her and hastily made his exit”. The case was reported to the council and Customs and Excise Department. The company refused to provide a refund and she was referred to the Small Claims Tribunal.

In another case, a complainant in similar circumstances was duped into buying a HK$33,000 electrolyte water apparatus that could purportedly remove pesticides from vegetables and be potable without needing to be boiled. Two days after drinking the water containing electrolytes, the family fell ill with diarrhoea and headaches.

The government has never dispatched or authorised any commercial organisations to sell such products
Clement Chan, Consumer Council

“The complainant consulted a doctor and was told that drinking alkaline water over the long term was not recommended, in particular with babies in their infancy,” the council said. After the council intervened, the company agreed to a refund.

A third case involved a saleswoman who casually presented herself as affiliated with the Housing Department to help needy families and the elderly install water filters. She managed to persuade a complainant to buy a HK$2,000 water filter after telling her that her tap water contained a peculiar odour.

“Consumers are reminded that the government has never dispatched or authorised any commercial organisations to sell such products,” Chan said.

“Should consumers have doubts about their household water quality, they should first approach their building or estate management for better understanding and, if necessary, contact the Water Supplies Department.”

The watchdog urged traders to provide clear and accurate product information and said any exaggeration, omissions or ambiguity in describing a product or service could amount to a breach of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.